This baseball cap doesn’t say POLICE on it. But it does have the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department’s hornets nest logo on it, and above that, in capital letters, “CMPD.” If you aren’t from Charlotte or Mecklenburg County, you probably wouldn’t even know what the logo implies or what the letters mean. But to wear it in Charlotte bestows the person under the hat certain benefits; and perhaps, potential dangers.
I received the hat along with other CMPD swag from the CMPD after the consulting firm I’m with, Maverick LLC, provided a pro bono seminar to the Chief’s command staff. The hat found a place in my closet for quite a while, until one sunny day, while getting ready to take our Golden retriever, Connors, out for a walk, I couldn’t find my Nike tennis cap. The CMPD hat was sitting on the closet shelf, so in the interest of expediency I grabbed it.
During our morning walk, as Connors and I stepped off the curb with sporadic traffic coming from our left (at way over the posted 25 MPH limit), the car closest to us kept coming at speed, despite our being just off the sidewalk, in a cross walk. As the driver got nearer to us, he braked hard to a stop, smiled and waved me across. I said to myself, “well, there’s a least one driver who knows the law about stopping for pedestrians.” So rare was it when a car stopped for us in the crosswalk, that when we arrived home I told my better half about it. “Really?” she said, as she gave me that smile she puts on when she knows something I don’t. She continued, “Honey, they stopped because you’re wearing your CMPD hat! The driver stopped because he thought you were a cop!” “No way,” I said. “It doesn’t say POLICE on it.” I wasn’t convinced it was the hat.
So began my pseudo-scientific social experiment. I wore my CMPD hat more and more. And after a year or so, I have accumulated enough experiential data to offer some conclusions about the special power my CMPD hat seems to bestow upon my noggin. The CMPD hat was definitely making a difference in how traffic and pedestrians perceived and responded to me. Drivers’ age and gender didn’t seem to be meaningful variables: in general, people stopped to let us cross the street far more often when I wore the hat.
Once, at a national coffee place they tried to give me my beverage for free: I declined the kind offer telling them that my firm trains police officers, but I’m not a cop. Another time, I didn’t notice until later that a hamburger place gave me 50% off my order. The vast majority of my interactions with drivers and other pedestrians over the past year have been positive. Often times, women seemed at ease by my presence on darkening streets during the winter – while they were out running or walking their own dogs. Smiles and nods of acknowledgement abounded.
In the aftermath of the Keith Scott shooting and riots last year, my significant other asked me not to go out wearing my CMPD hat. She was afraid I might become a random victim of violence intended for a police officer. I didn’t completely disagree with her assessment, but I felt, somehow, that we should all know what police officers feel like when they’re in uniform. Even if my “uniform” was limited to a hat. On the radio there were constant warnings about planned protests and demonstrations around the South Park Mall and vicinity. Connors and I went out as we usually do about 9 p.m. We didn’t encounter any protestors, and I didn’t feel more or less vulnerable. But it did make me think about the street officers who suit up, wear their uniforms proudly, but know at some level that there’s at least one psychopath out there who sees their badge and uniform as a target.
My “hat study” is ongoing, and I have never had more respect and admiration for the CMPD, and police officers in general. On those days when I’m not wearing my CMPD hat, and traffic speeds by at 45 in a 25, doesn’t stop at stop signs, and otherwise makes crossing the street with Connors more dangerous than it ought to be. I think maybe we should have a hook on every light pole at every cross walk with a CMPD hat on it. Before you attempt to cross, you put on the CMPD hat, and when traffic miraculously stops for you, you calmly walk across the street, take off the hat and leave it on the hook for the next pedestrian going in the opposite direction.
William R. Stark is the practice leader at Maverick LLC, a global management consulting firm that recently added a law enforcement practice.